Cascades of Courtallam

Southern splendour

Cascades of Courtallam

We had embarked on a long journey of South India, to the very tip of the mainland, Kanyakumari, and its surroundings. Having understood that Tamil Nadu, known for its dryness and lack of water resources, could not be approached in the summer months, we planned the visit as the winter set in.

As the overnight train landed us in Madurai, our first stop, we were in for a surprise. The weather was gloomy, cloudy and chilly. The roads had little puddles from previous night’s rain. Hoping that a fair weather would set in soon, we spent a couple of days looking around the temples that the city is famous for. The weather did not let up as the north-east monsoon was unexpectedly very active after a lull of 3-4 years. The cyclonic storm, too, had taken its toll on the weather, which forced us to call off our journey. But the fact that the rainfall was aplenty urged us to shift our destination to Courtallam Falls.

Ideal location
We reached the town of Courtallam in under five hours by train from Madurai. Though the right time to visit would be between June and August, the unusual downpour had brought life to waterfalls, rivers and lakes. Nestled in the lap of mountains of the Agasthyamalai Range, halfway between Sengottai of Kerala and Tenkasi of Tamil Nadu, Courtallam is at the meeting point of the Western Ghats and the hill ranges from the east.

The fairly dense forest cover among the hills is where rivers like Chittar, Manimuthar, Pachaiyar and Tambraparni originate. They tumble down the hills to create beautiful waterfalls, giving the area the sobriquet, ‘the spa of South India’. 

The main falls of Courtallam is a major attraction, with its cascades dropping down from about 160 ft, said Kannan, the autorickshaw driver who had agreed to take us around. A single cascade falls into a deep pool that absorbs its impact and lets down a few smaller falls that combine to flow as a stream further. There was, as expected, a jubilant crowd playing and splashing around. Even though the waters are said to have medicinal value, the idea of taking a dip was dispensed with as we has other falls to visit.

Before leaving the place, we paid a visit to the Kutralanathar Temple dedicated to Shiva, from where the falls gets its name. With at least half a dozen falls, it’s a paradise of waterfalls, though it’s hard to access all of them. The Five Falls, named after the five distinct cascades, is the next most-visited place. On the way were trails leading to the lesser-known Chitraruvi Falls and Shenbagadevi Falls. Their flow from a lush green forest cover are simple and safe.

The artificial Tiger Falls has its stream directed into three cascades to enable visitors to have a safe bath. The best falls we found was the Old Courtallam Falls or Old Falls, which is 8 km away to the west. The lengthy waterfall dropping in four stages across a bare rock into a valley of jungles looks astounding.

Tenkasi, a nearby town, has a huge temple of Kasi Vishvanathar and Goddess Ulagamman. Built in Dravidian style, the entrance tower, embellished with innumerable fine carvings of images, soars into the sky. A strong breeze seems to push one towards the sanctum, a strange phenomenon called Tenkasi Breeze Marvel, as per the board inside the shrine.

Visiting Courtallam for its waterfalls, hills and forests besides ancient temples was worthwhile indeed.

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